When it comes to both your employer brand and your recruitment strategy there is a difficult balance to strike between the merits of ‘individual brilliance and group genius’. Top talent that is brought in based purely on previous performance could falter in a changed environment, but undervaluing individual achievement could drive innovators away. It’s a complex debate that needs to be understood before you can have a truly effective Employer Value Proposition.
The debate has evolved through several incarnations. A decade ago it concerned financial whizz-kids and what was termed "the talent mind-set". This was a hiring and management strategy that focused on promoting stars without regard to seniority or experience, and which believed "people make organizations smart", not the other way around. Enron was one of the biggest advocates of this company culture. In 2002, prompted by Enron’s collapse a year earlier, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece in the New Yorker which asked: "Are smart people overrated?"
Gladwell argued that such a single-minded focus on talent had not allowed for accurate performance reviews and meant, "the needs of the customer and the shareholders were secondary to the needs of its stars." In 2011 William Taylor reignited the same debate, this time prompted by the Silicon Valley phenomenon of 'acqhiring'.
Acqhiring is the term used when a talent-hungry company, like Facebook, buys up smaller tech start-ups, not for their product but for their talent. Companies have ended up paying millions for an individual software engineer. Mark Zuckerberg justifies this intense focus on individual talent: "someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good. They are 100 times better."
Taylor challenged this notion with an argument similar to that of Gladwell. He argued that it is a company's success and culture that creates talent, not the other way around. He quotes the IBM internship handbook: “To be clear, when you leave Extreme Blue and join another group at IBM … we will be watching. And if we find out you are making the program look like we are producing a bunch of arrogant wannabes, we will forget we ever knew you.” He cites IBM, which recently celebrated its 100th birthday, as proof of the success that comes from valuing the group over the individual.
The debate rages on and the pendulum continues to swing between the two extremes. Meanwhile, out of the limelight, the majority of companies are continuing to work on striking a successful balance. How do you tackle the issue?
Creative commons image by Cayusa